Statement on

The Root Causes of Mass-Migration

How To Think About Migration

Certain things about international and, in fact, much internal, migration have remained fairly stable since the beginnings of the formation of organized political entities. For instance, we all know how important migration has been is in providing the raw material for the industrial revolution or in populating and building new states. What may be less obvious – and is certainly discussed much less – is migration’s “civilizational” impact, that is the fact that migrants typically are at the very heart of progress by spreading cultural, social, organizational, and scientific ideas and knowledge about the world where ever they find themselves. These ideas, in turn, have helped communities and societies to change and grow even if, or perhaps because of, migration’s ability to question and indeed “disrupt”the status quo.

Such “disruption” has always sat at the very heart of migration’s effects on host communities and societies. Migration, however, If perhaps less visibly, also disrupts sending communities and societies through the instruments of social, cultural, and political “remittances” – in addition to the financial remittances one thinks of most readily in conversations about migration.

In this 360 degree understanding of migration, and when migration is legal and orderly, benefits flow to all protagonists, starting, of course, with the immigrants themselves.

The Reasons For (“Root Causes” Of) Migration

Drilling inside the root causes the agenda notes (“military conflicts, massive violations of human rights and sociology-economic instability”), allows us to make a number of observations that may facilitate our discussions. For instance, it is worth noting that the reasons for migration have held rather steady over time, although the order of their importance in different periods of time and in different settings may change.

There are four main reasons for migration, but in the real world, each of these reasons “bleeds” into one or more of the others, making each an ideal type more useful for migration authorities – which need to fit migrants into preconceived administrative categories in order to make decisions about admission, benefits, and the like – than for thinkers and analysts. The four reasons are (1) survival, (2) persecution, (3) war and other forms of systemic violence, and (4) opportunity.

Survival migration is easy to understand. Survival migrants are people who are fleeing abject poverty and, increasingly, extreme environmental degradation and related absolute scarcities (such as those of food or water). Across time, such conditions have been the largest sources of migration and may well become so once more as runaway climate change makes the likelihood of such migration increasingly likely. Much of intra-Africa migration, but also migration in South and SouthEast Asia, as well as Central America fits under this rubric. And inevitably, some survival migrants will try to find ways to make it into Europe though they typically lack the re-sources, and networks, to do so successfully in measurable numbers. More recently, those flee-ing severe economic deprivations and deep and persistent instability, such as Central Ameri-cans trying to cross into the United States illegally and some of those who come to Europe ille-gally by crossing the Central Mediterranean might also be classified as “survival migrants,” if loosely so.

Persecution is also easy to understand. It refers to the kind of circumstances that are behind the “protection regimes” enshrined in both international conventions and reinforced and expanded through regional (EU) and domestic legislation. Persecution because of political belief and “membership” in a social, religious, political, ethnic, or other type of group, is as old as the for-mation of organized communities, though modern jurisprudence has focused mostly on wheth-er persecution is undertaken by the state itself and/or, increasingly, by non-state agents that state authorities are unable or unwilling to control.

War and systemic violence and upheavals are also clear to understand and are central both to the massive internal displacements of recent years and the vast majority of refugees. Afghani-stan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and other failed of failing states, are prime examples here. In fact, and while the 2015 migration crisis in Europe has many causes, and takes many forms, persons fleeing war and persistent, systemic violence may prove to account for between 40 and 50 percent of successful asylum applicants in the handful of countries that received virtually all the inflows. (The “quality” of such decisions is a matter that will be “adjudicated” in the court of public opinion and the analytical literature after all decisions about asylum claims are made and the “dust settles” on this issue – and we have more clarity whether 2015 and the first trimester of 2016 were primarily a black-swan event or a new normal.)

Opportunity is the last major “cause” of migration and perhaps the most difficult to incorporate into the decision-making of destination countries. Opportunity migrants are persons seeking to avail themselves of the promise (expectation?) of vast “opportunity differentials” between one’s own actual circumstances and those a prospective migrant imagines are available elsewhere. (“Imagines” refers to the combination of lore and up-to-date, though not necessarily accurate, information from friends and co-ethnics who have already made it to their destinations.) In this regard, the decision to pursue upward mobility by seeking entry into another country almost re-gardless of pecuniary and non-pecuniary costs, leads to illegal migration which, in certain regions of the world (such as the U.S., much of South and Southeast Asia, and, increasingly, Europe) becomes an important and even defining form of migration. Such migration introduces an additional layer of complexity to this entire issue in that it applies to migrants almost regardless of circumstances at home, including employment status, and the human capital (education, skills [formal and informal or “tacit”], and experience) an individual may possess. In organized and legal migration regimes, and depending on the admission requirements of receiving societies, some of these migrants may find legal ways to enter and stay in a given country, primarily through the employment and family reunification routes. But in most instances, entries and stays are illegal – a fact that often poisons the waters with regard to all migration. The U.S. is the archetype here, in that about 25 percent of all migration is illegal and its political effects have made any effort to reform the immigration system in ways other than putting more resources at border and interior controls simply impossible.

Enforcing Rules: A Task As Difficult As It Is Necessary

If sorting causes and categories of entrants is difficult enough (how does one classify Eritreans?), what adds significantly to that complexity is that their motivations often fit under several of the four ideal types outlined briefly here – that is, people seek to enter wealthy countries for reasons that typically cut across several of the causes outlined above. This puts an extraordinary burden on destination countries authorities to apply the law in the face of classes of applicants that could fit under more than one legal or administrative category. And another development makes an already complex task even more so: formal and informal coalitions of activists, humanitarians of virtually all stripes, and the overwhelming majority of media (who have become extraordinary “force multipliers” in the effort to force authorities to accept virtually all who cross into advanced democracies) make the enforcement of rules allowing the refusal of entry to and removal of those who do not meet the criteria for protection difficult to accomplish. Examples from throughout Europe but also the United States and elsewhere, demonstrate this point.

The systematic effort by these coalitions to undermine the legitimacy of the EU/Turkey agreement to the point where public opinion views it as a violation of both law and decency is a perfect case in point of how blurred the lines across categories have become and how difficult it has become for states to safeguard borders and enforce migration rules. In fact, the chaos that defined the entry of approximately 1.5 million migrants in Europe, the overwhelming majority of whom entered in the 9 or so months between the early summer of 2015 and early spring of 2016 is now leading into another form of chaos: how to sort them out, offer protection to those who are bona fide refugees, and remove, quickly and efficiently, those who are economic migrants. It will be a long process and the outcomes will be well short of what the law allows and decency may dictate.